TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida’s battle over mask mandates in schools returned to Circuit Court Judge John C. Cooper‘s courtroom Wednesday morning, where Cooper ruled to allow mask policies and removed the automatic stay from the previous order.
Cooper chose to override the automatic stay, allowing his previous written order blocking the state government and Gov. Ron DeSantis from stopping school districts having mask policies in place, and ending sanctions against schools that have been enacted by Florida’s Education Commissioner, Richard Corcoran.
The sanctions had been in effect for only four days before Cooper’s written order came down.
His decision came after discussion of arguments made during the trial and a brief reweighing of evidence presented. The final choice by Cooper came from the danger presented to children unable to be protected by vaccination due to age, and the harms that isolating at home could cause.
“It’s undisputed that in Florida we are in the midst of a COVID pandemic,” Cooper said. “Based on the evidence I’ve heard, there’s no harm to the state if the stay is set aside…there’s nothing in my final judgment that prevents the defendants from enforcing the full Bill of Rights, I’m just saying you can’t just enforce part of it. I see no harm to the state in setting aside the stay.”
In the same moments that Judge Cooper was delivering his ruling on whether or not to set aside the stay, Gov. DeSantis told reporters that he believed the judge would keep the stay in place while at a news conference in Palm Coast.
Despite that confidence, Cooper set aside the stay and directed Charles Gallagher, representing the plaintiffs in Scott vs. DeSantis, to draft the order, to take effect immediately and end the state ban on mask mandates in schools.
The Governor’s Office sent a response to 8 On Your Side after Judge Cooper’s ruling was delivered.
“No surprise here that Judge Cooper concluded that he is unlikely to be overruled on appeal. We (unsurprisingly) disagree,” said a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office. “Today we plan to file our emergency motion to reinstate the stay, and we anticipate the appellate court will rule quickly, much like during the school re-opening case last year.”
Setting aside the stay keeps the judge’s previous written order in effect. Cooper’s written order came out Friday, four days after his initial verbal ruling. The judge had said the order would not take effect until the written version was published.
Appeals by both parties in the case, the Florida officials and Florida parents, triggered an automatic stay. Now, with the case back in Cooper’s courtroom, it is up to him to override the stay, or allow it, placing the block on blanket mask policy bans to wait.
Also at issue are sanctions enacted against school districts who chose to have mask policies despite the orders and opinions of state officials.
So far, Alachua and Broward counties’ school districts face withheld funding equal to the payroll amounts for the superintendents and the specific number of school board members who voted in favor of the mask policies. Currently, Hillsborough and Sarasota counties’ school districts are also under investigation for their mask policies.
Across the state, hospitalizations for COVID-19 were down and new cases were lower in the past week than those previously, but pediatric cases are on the rise.
Watch the full hearing on whether or not to set aside the stay here:
The delta variant has continued to sweep across Florida, leading to the school districts making mask mandates as a way to mitigate the spread of the virus among their students, faculty and staff.
You can read the full order to vacate the stay below: